By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
As a participant in many listservs, including those of the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), I had always been warned to watch what I said online as the OIG, the FBI and other law enforcement authorities and regulators monitored these.
Not that I really believed this, and this was unnecessary, because who would be dumb enough to say anything that might cause problems for himself or herself (or his or her client) in public.
Since the issue had come up in my legal practice a number of times, I decided to write a blog about the possible legal consequences of a physician's waiving co-pays and deductibles for Medicare beneficiaries. To view this corrected blog, click here.
Rule 1: Always Verify Your Sources and Check Your Facts.
Digging into my personal research archives, I found background information on the issue that I had been saving. This included forms coming from someone that indicated on them that they had been approved by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The forms were for the purpose of proving financial inability of a patient to pay co-pays and deductibles.
Since the forms were thorough, well-thought-out and covered the details of information that would demonstrate financial indigence, I did not question their pedigree.
In my blog regarding why waiving co-pays and deductibles for Medicare patients would violate Medicare regulations, I included a copy of these forms and indicated that they had been approved by the OIG's office.
Rule 2: Big Brother IS Watching!
Much to my surprise, within several days of our publishing the blog article, I received a letter from the OIG, advising me that the statement I had made in it regarding the source of the forms was incorrect. That the OIG had not, in fact, promulgated or approved the forms in question.
To see a copy of this letter, click here.
I was (happily) surprised to learn that someone, much less someone in the government, was actually reading my blog. Since this blog was still in its infancy, and I had received no indication that anyone was reading it. It was heart-warming to know that there was at least one reader.
Rule 3: Hey, We're All Human!
I promptly corrected the misstatement in the blog, and took it as an opportunity to modify the forms (especially since the OIG claimed no ownership), hopefully making them better.
I also sent a letter back to the OIG writer, thanking her for pointing out the mistake. To see a copy of my letter to the OIG, click here.
I do always try my best to be accurate, and I certainly respect the efforts of those in the government with the unenviable task of enforcing the extremely complex scheme of laws and regulations making up the Medicare Program. Although we should all strive to be perfect, part of the striving is to realize that we're all human, and we all make mistakes (especially the person who sent me the forms).
Rule 4: Be Happy Someone Is Reading Your Blog; I Am.
If I make a factual mistake, I am happy to acknowledge the mistake and correct it (if I'm actually proven wrong). I'm happy just to know that others, especially people who are experts in these subjects, are actually reading my blog. I was also extremely happy to learn that I am not the only person alive who is still writing typed letters on sheets of paper and actually mailing them out through the U.S. Postal Service.
I also hope that they have a sense of humor, as well.
Rule 5: Physics and the Study of Chaos Theory: They Do Apply.
From the many physics courses I had when I was (unsuccessfully) studying to be a chemical engineer, I know what energy has to be applied to any system to keep entropy from setting in. The study of chaos theory shows that constant energy must be poured into any system to keep it organized and prevent it from deteriorating into chaos. The man-hours (and woman-hours) that must be expended just to keep the Medicare Program from deteriorating into a hodgepodge of inconsistent forms, inaccurate informal guidance and simply incorrect information being published, must be mind-boggling.
Rule 6: Be Careful What You Say on the Internet. The Regulators Are Reading It.
So it seems that the lore that had previously been passed around at legal conferences that I attended was correct! I can hardly wait to receive that letter from the FBI, the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FTC, the FAA, the NTSB...
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
Tag Words: Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), health law blogs, Health Law Firm, blogging tips, listerves
"The Health Law Firm" is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. - The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.